Saluting India’s Homegrown Child Rights Activist Kailash Satyarthi

New Delhi: Each year on June 12, when the world observes the World Day Against Child Labour, India has cause to salute Kailash Satyarthi – the man who made this day possible – a human rights champion who rescued over 88,000 bonded and trafficked children, and won the Nobel Peace Prize by acting on his words: ‘Every single childhood matters.

For Satyarthi, the world’s foremost leader in abolishing child and bonded labour, the crusade to fight for every child began in 1980, when he formed the Bachpan Bachao Andolan.

Fuelled by his ground work closer home, the child rights activist had led a march of 600 children and some global child rights activists, into the International Labour Organisation (ILO) gathering of 150 countries in Geneva on June 6, 1998 – a time when justifications for child labour were common.

The group shouted slogans, and carried banners asking for an immediate halt to child labour. After a standing ovation from over 2,000 delegates, emerged ILO’s historic Convention182 on June 12. 

“Leading us all was a 14 year old boy Khokhan who had lost a leg during his childhood. The sound and spectacle of 2,000 delegates giving a standing ovation to us still deeply resonates,” 65-year-old Satyarthi had said.

His tireless blend of activism, dialogue and deep compassion led the ILO to declare June 12 as the ‘World Day Against Child Labour’.

Convention182 prohibits child slavery, bonded child labour and all forms of exploitation of children as workers. Since 1998, every year, ILO brings together governments, employees, employers, organisations and civil society to highlight the plight of the world’s millions of child labourers. 

June 12 celebrates what every child deserves — to be carefree and to have toys and books in your hand, as opposed to being a victim of HATE (Homeless, Abused, Trafficked, Exploited).

This day also unifies the otherwise fragmented days designated for children worldwide: November 14 in India, April 4 in Taiwan, May 5 in Japan, and June 1 as the International Day for Protection of Children.

Satyarthi continues his fight to free every child, and is one of the world’s most active and influential Nobel Laureates.

He represents the collective pride of over a billion Indians. 2019 would mark the 5th anniversary of him receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, on October 10, 2014. 2019 also marks the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation. These two stalwarts from India, have given the world the message of peace and non-violence.

Satyarthi has received praise from fellow Laureate Barack Obama and ex-UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon who had said, “Thanks in large measure to Mr Satyarthi’s heroic work, the world has moved from denial about abusive child labour to acknowledgement, awareness and action. He has successfully brought together the key elements for success in the fight against the worst forms of child labour – moral outrage, personal commitment, and societal engagement.”

Emphasising the idea that you have to first free a child in order to educate them, this June 12, it is useful to remember the words he gave us: ” I only have one goal in life. To end child labour in my lifetime. The world is capable of ending child labor. The only thing is that we have to feel compassion for others.”